September 5, 2013

Raisin Challah and Braiding Tips

L'shana Tova Umetukah! A happy and sweet new year!
On Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, we eat a lot of round and sweet foods. The round symbolizes the cycle of a year, and the sweet is for your sweet year. One of my favorite traditional dishes is a round raisin challah. I've made challah before, but never attempted a round one. It seemed really intimidating!
However, I found a great recipe and tips from The Shiksa in the Kitchen, via Bon Appetite online. The Shiksa is a great blog for Jewish/Kosher recipes and food history (and let's not forget that Bubbie Ruth's Mandel Bread won an honorable mention in her recipe competition!). This article gave a great suggestion for round challah, which was creating a chain of dough links in a circle and letting it bake into a full round. I love the symbolism and the result!
I made the challah in advance, and then wrapped the fully baked and cooled rounds in foil and plastic wrap to freeze. When it was time to serve, I unwrapped and let them come to room temperature over 6 hours. Then I re-wrapped them in foil and popped them into a 250 degree oven for about 20 minutes. They tasted great!
Adapted from The Shiksa in the Kitchen
This will make 1 large braided challah or 2 smaller round challot
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water, divided
1 packet active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 egg
3 egg yolks
1/3 cup honey
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 teaspoons salt
4 1/2 to 6 cups all-purpose baking flour

Egg Wash
1 egg
1 tablespoon cold water
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups raisins (for Rosh Hashana)
Sesame seeds or poppy seeds

Pour 1/4 cup of the lukewarm water (about 110 degrees F) into a large mixing bowl. Add 1 packet of active dry yeast and 1 tsp of sugar to the bowl, stir to dissolve. Wait 10 minutes. The yeast should have activated, meaning it will look expanded and foamy. Add remaining 1 1/4 cup lukewarm water to the bowl along with the egg and egg yolks, honey, canola oil and salt; whisk till blended.

Begin stirring the flour into the bowl by half-cupfuls. When mixture becomes too thick to stir, use your hands to knead. I added in about 3.5 cups and mixed it with the paddle attachment on my stand mixer. Then I slowly started to use the dough hook with an additional 1.5 cups. Continue to add flour and knead the dough until it’s smooth and elastic, not sticky. The amount of flour you will need to achieve this texture varies; only add flour until the dough feels pliable and “right.” If you plan to add raisins to the challah, incorporate them into the dough as you knead.

Preheat your oven to 250. Once it reaches temperature, turn it off, but don't open the oven yet. Remove the dough from your mixing bowl and wash out the bowl. Grease the bowl with canola oil. Push the dough back into the bottom of the bowl, then flip it over so that both sides are slightly moistened by the oil. Cover the bowl with foil, then place it on the top rack of your oven. After 1 hour, take the dough out and punch it down into the bowl several times to remove air pockets. Place it back inside the oven and let it rise for 1 hour longer.

Take the dough out of the oven. Flour a smooth surface like a cutting board. Punch the dough down into the bowl a few times, then turn the dough out onto the floured surface. Knead for a few minutes, adding flour as needed to keep the dough from feeling sticky.

Now your dough is ready to braid. See the "How to Make a Round Challah" link at the bottom of the page here.

After you’ve braided your challah, place it on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper–one braid per cookie sheet. Prepare your egg wash by beating the egg, salt and water till smooth. Use a pastry brush to brush a thin layer of egg wash onto the visible surface of your challah. Reserve the leftover egg wash.

Cover the challah loosely with plastic wrap and let it rise 30 to 45 minutes longer. You’ll know the dough is ready to bake when you press your finger into the dough and the indentation stays, rather than bouncing back.

Remove the plastic wrap from the challah. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. The challah needs to bake for about 40 minutes total. First, bake your challah for 20 minutes. Take the challah out of the oven and touch up the center of the braid with another thin layer of egg wash (this area tends to expand during baking). Turn the cookie sheet around, so the opposite side is facing front, and put it back into the oven.

Bake the challah for about 20 minutes longer (bulkier shapes like round challahs might need more time in the oven). For this last part of the baking process, keep an eye on your bread–it may brown faster than it’s baking. When the challah is browned to your liking, take the tray out and tent it with foil, then place it back in the oven. Remove the foil for the last 2 minutes of baking time.

Take the challah out of the oven. At this point your house should smell delicious. You can test the bread for doneness by turning it over and tapping on the bottom of the loaf–if it makes a hollow sound, it’s done. Let challah cool on the baking sheet or a wire cooling rack before serving.